The Structure of Color Vision

By Herb Wiggins, M.D.; Clinical Neurosciences; Discoverer/Creator of the Comparison Process/CP Theory/Model; 14 Mar. 2014
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Using structuralist methods, LE (least energy), and CP (comparison process) we can find out a very great deal about how color vision is generated in the brain.

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First of all,  will compare and contrast the linear electromagnetic spectrum of the known color frequencies to how the brain organizes and identifies the colors. That disparity likely will tell us much more about how our colors come about within the brain, i.e., using our language to describe how the brain creates the basic colors we see.  ROY G BIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. These colors were Not known before Newton to be arranged in any order, as the color vision of humans does not imply energies and frequencies of light, but simply posits these basic colors, plus a few synthetic ones. Silvery as a reflection of light off silver, steel, and water, and other shiny objects. And brown which is a combo of red and green, and again totally without ANY individual frequency on the color spectrum, either. The existence of brown and silvery, may therefore be part and parcel of the creation of useful colors by our visual systems. White, the unlimited grays, and black are also NOT true colors which can individually be located by frequencies on the EM spectrum, either. These disparities should give us pause, as to how human brain colors came about.
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When we compare the frequencies of light for each color with the combinations of frequencies using mixing of dyes and paints, we see that the eyes creates color using a scheme which is roughly corresponding to the spectrum, but not dependent upon it totally. Thus it can create orange from yellow and red, and green from blue and yellow.
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For instance, mixing paints and dyes of yellow and red, one gets orange. This is inexplicable because orange is NOT a mix of yellow and red, but a discrete color frequency band in the EM spectrum. However, the visual system can perceive it that way. It’s Odd. Similarly, mixing yellow and blue we get green, again ignoring an existing band of green frequencies, too These comparisons show us WHAT kind of processes and structures are doing the work. Much like optical illusions do the same for many shapes.
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Also, green mixed with blue makes blue-green, which exists as well as a frequency band. Turquoise is yet another, a very light blue, with white mixed with blue, also NOT on the EM spectrum. Grayish blues and blackish blues also exist. These disparities show that colors are synthetic creations in/of our visual systems.
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In addition, when a person has red/green color blindness, they may often report that brown is the color they see instead of red or green. They cannot see red or green traffic lights, but note which is brightest and know that a red light by convention is on the top, and green is on the bottom. God help them if the signal is mounted horizontally as it was in some towns in the 1970’s and ’80s.
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In addition the illusions of color afterimages and bleaching are also interesting. When two colors of red and green as figures are put next to each other, if we stare at them for a few minutes, then at once look at a white sheet of paper, we see the figure for the red shape as green, and vice versa. This is true of orange and blue and yellow and purple. Why this should be is puzzling, just as the existence of brown, silver and the other colors, The lack of any hints about the spectrum using our color schemes and the curious mixing of colors which create the intermediate colors, when in fact, those are also compound, is an insight into how colors are created by our visual system.
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The colors red, green, yellow and blue when mixed can create most all the colors, red/green being brown. & the silvery color, which is synthetic, most often seen with light glancing off water, steel, or silver.
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The opponent color scheme to explain how our visual system creates colors, should be renamed the comparison color model. Incident frequencies of light are compared to each other by the visual cortex and the combination of colors creates the kinds of colors we see. Thus using red, green and blue diodes most all the colors can be created by our electronics, comparing amounts of red, yellow, green and blue. This also explains the composite color, brown, which while there are corresponding frequencies of light in the spectrum for each of the major colors, there is NONE for brown, or for silvery colors.. This means it’s more likely that color creation is a comparison process. When a certain amount of red is seen with a nearly equal mix of yellow, orange is produced. When blue is mixed properly with yellow, green is produced. Mixing orange with blue, purple with yellow may produce grays, largely. Also red and green create browns mixed with various amounts of many photons or few photons (white and black) numbers. Thus the opponent color model should be labelled more correctly, the comparison process color model. Brown is purely a synthetic color, as is silvery, or light reflecting off water commonly. Those are NOT pure color frequencies, but composites, which have NO actual presence in the spectrum. Neither model explains nor even considers brown!!! The visual systems create colors there, just like it creates all of the colors. But using a mix of about 3-4 major frequency detectors, it can create most all the colors without only 3 inputs, plus black and white (Darkness and lightness) for numbers of photons perceived within the normal ranges of the rods, and this gives the gray scale, largely. Thus It’s not opponent, but comparisons and combinations, which create the colors we see.
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It’s easier to create a representation of all of the frequencies PLUS the colors of white, black, brown and silvery to further extend our perceptions of commonly seen events. Using 7-8 colors plus black and white and the grays, is more complicated. and so the LE solution of our visual systems is by combinations of colors creating the colors we actually see. It’s least action, simpler and more elegant. than having a receptor for each broad band of EM radiation. It saves complexity as well. It’s simplify, simplify simplify. That it’s NOT purely spectral, both brown and silver very clearly show, too, as well as blacks, grays and white. none of the latter have ANY band of frequencies on the EM spectrum. This disparity is also as insight as to how the visual systems creates what we see.
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These combinations also give rise to the problem of synesthesias, wherein colors are mixed in different ways, to give rise to new colors, not seen before. Thus the potential palette of the senses is  a LOT bigger than is needed. Synesthesias are in addition a comparison processing of touch, feelings, sight, hearing rerouted in ways which make sensory outputs mix, which are not usually used because they are not needed. But comparison processing of the senses CAN easily explain those synesthesias, too. Combinations, remixing, are comparing simply, and easily explain synesthesias of all sorts, including hearing colors and seeing tones and combinations of such. Synesthetes simply assign by set point methods, much as  when we speak another language & use different tones, accents, vowels, and consonants, and their distinctions to create meanings, which clearly mark most other languages and dialects, too. Set points are different, and there that is, as well. This is the beauty of the comparison process, because it explains so very much with so very little. Again, elegant, highly capable, multiplicit almost without limits, and so forth, and highly fruitful as well.
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Now WHY, how does it come about that we see colors? And a very likely answer is, that it’s practical, which also explains brown and silvery, too. Consider this commonly seen, but very much missed and highly important point. When, each day, do we see a rainbow?
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At every sunrise, and sunset, the rainbow of colors is created, red, then orange, then yellow, then a bit of green and finally the blue of the clear sky. For common green we get green from plants, largelly their leaves, and that works pretty well, too. These set the colors we see by constant reinforcements until it becomes LTM (Long Term Memory) and thus recognizable and stable. For brown, we get the combo of green and red, or yellow and black, both of which are both combinations, that is comparisons of colors. Brown is a dual color and can be created in two ways. It’s a dual duality of colors!!
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This model thus explains colors as practical reflections of commonly seen mixtures of colors, green as blue and yellow. orange as red and yellow. purples as red and blue, & so forth. Brown as red/green or yellow and black with some whites, too. So Brown is a dual duality, in fact, most peculiar but because there is a LOT of that mixture, the vision system creates a color just for it. Brown of skin, bark, dried leaves, and on and on and on. Just as red is blood, & sunrise and sunset rainbows from the refractions of light through the thicker atmosphere, so is the spectrum of the rainbow created from water drops, a refraction as well. Rainbows can also be created by using a spray of many other liquids, and even water ice, creating the solar halos, so rare, but well described and known. Thus color is created by our brains, using the commonly seen major colors of the sunrise, sunset, but NOT from rainbows, as those cannot be see often enough to set up in our memories of colors, so we can recognize the palette of colors each day. Greens from plants, and blues from skies and the white to black, the grays and whites of clouds, too, to the black of night. Black means very low numbers of photons and then the colors disappear, if light is too dim, i.e., not enough photons to allow color detection, too. It’s the combination of colors, of comparison which creates it. PLUS the creation of brown.
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Silvery, or metallic, is simply almost total reflection of most all colors incident upon the reflector, and thus has a characteristic all its own. Mirages are simply more of this same type seen by the eyes, off a heated air layer.
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The interesting thing is that when pure, silvery crystals of water ice are very small, when seen through a microscope they are clear. When seen with normal vision, they are white. Thus the visual systems distinguish the two, tho they are very much of the same origin as clear or white. This is another illusion also revealed by a microscope & comparison with clear water ice, too, which is NOT white, yet is at merely a different size scale. Another disparity showing us how the visual systems synthesize colors.
A very interesting issue also is  that if we were on another planet whose sun emitted the maximum number of photons at a more orange wavelength, compared to our sun brightest frequencies, which are mostly yellow/green, what colors would we see? Pretty much the same as we do now because we see the reddish cast of light at the sun’s rising and setting and are used to it. Tho our visible spectrum is clearly set around the frequencies which are the brightest and largest number of photons emitted which pass through our atmosphere, if the sun were bluer, or more orange, then that new setting of lower frequency, high photons numbers would arise in time as our eyes adapted, genetically to the new sun.
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Our eyes naturally fix upon the brightest and largest numbers of photons in which to center vision, because this gives the MOST information. We shine a bright light on objects of interest to see them better. So, in a sense do our eyes. It’s efficient and the best way to see the most. It’s Least Energy, again!!
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It’s also the case that when a sodium vapor light is used, some tree leaves turn a very brilliant yellow, whereas in the sunlight they are green, clearly. This is the case of incident lighting being reflected at those wavelengths when there is little green light. Mercury vapor lamps also tend to make skin more bluish and greenish, as there is very little red in mercury emissions.  Thus it might be possible to detect characteristics of the pigments in leaves by using red, yellow, green and other lights to detect which major pigments are being seen in sol called green leaves. Those maples trees which can give brilliant colors off, should also be detectable and identifiable in these ways.
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But the facts that leaves and indeed many events show the colors they do, by reflection, shows once again that incident frequencies of light show us different colors in different lighting. This is clear. Colors of events depend in a relativity way, upon the incident lighting. There is NO absolute colour, only the arbitrary, but easily used sunlight standard, to determine what normal colors events are. Again, the relativity of the visual systems, just as with the neocortex which observes those colors and orders and recognizes them.
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Thus, like words are made up of a series of set consonant and vowels, the set point model of pronunciations, which each language has, so too, are the colors set up in the same way.
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But where do those colors come from? Our memories of colors are set up in the visual cortex. The standards are set up from birth by the most common colors we see, such as red, orange, brown, and so forth. Each of these are set and then become stable series of synaptic memories in the visual cortex, against which we describe and measure most all else that we see. If we see a cherry, we call it red, or maroon. An apple, red, or yellow as the case may be. An orange, orange. A lemon, lemon yellow. Her eyes were as “blue as the sky”, is yet another metaphorical description showing how it’s done. We use the set standards of color, drawn from our perceptions of those frequencies to describe evens in our existence by comparison to those colours.
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Some have written a very great deal about the qualia of the senses. Sadly, there is no way to test such a term, quali., and must be considered without value in the sciences. Why do we see and ID and set the colors as we see them? As stated before, by the environment interacting with our visual memories. Which ID’s colors, assigns by experience which bands of frequencies are red, orange, yellow, green, etc., as well as the browns, white, grays, and blacks.
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Is there a sense for “perfect” colors, as there is for “perfect” pitch? Interior designers know there is, but it’s based upon sunlight, largely, too, as the “arbitrary, relatively fixed & stable standard” against which we describe and measure colors. We see again, how the measuring epistemology of Einstein’s relativity, the comparison processes of verbal descriptions AND measurable frequencies, and lightness and darkness, are used universally to ID colors. To which we add the least energy principle, that the standard must be easy to use, ubiquitous and simple. Just as we use water to establish our temp scales, weights and much else. Observe the object in full sunlight, the standard by which we assign colors, and assign the color to it or by frequencies distributions from a photometer, and number of incident photons of each frequency. That’s relativity, once again.
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These can be seen quite well at any paint store or paint department. The EM spectrum is simply a linear succession of frequencies. In real life, there are ranges of frequencies, based upon numbers of photons at those frequencies, which determines lightness or darkness, or the grays of unlimited kinds in between. Thus real colors are NOT linear as on frequencies lined up according to about 500 nm. to 800 or so, BUT are mixtures of colors, brightnesses and grays as well. Pastel red as pink or rosy. Intense reds of rubies, and the darker shades of corundum reds. The entire palette of colors is 3 dimensional at least, NOT just linear frequency sequence, either. That’s too linear to be accurate. and thus the palettes of colors at paint stores which begins to show the FULLEST range of color combos and so forth. Simply go to a paint store and look at the unlimited palettes of color chips they have there to verify and give real meaning to how the actual colors, pure or in combinations in real life are far, far more than any simple, linear frequency line of colors.
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Then there are the electric blues, the oranges and bright green colors seen on road crews’ jackets, and so forth. & the metallic color combinations as well seen best on our cars. Or the multiple color crystals which change as the incident light angle changes, as well, specifically the maroon which changes to a bluish maroon Ford, when the eyes & head move around. Complex systems, and not linear, either, any more than the brilliance of many birds, notable the hyacinth macaws, the cockatoos, the male birdwings, and the magnificent displays of the incomparable metal mark butterflies (Ancyluris spps., etc.) and the Papillios, the swallowtails.
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And all of these noted facts should give us a better understanding about how the visual system detects wavelengths of light and then creates the many colors to represent those.
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